Stacked «

You can’t flip on a television these days without seeing actors, musicians, and poker celebrities behind stacks of poker chips. The game of choice is Texas Hold ’em: the Cadillac of Poker and the most popular variant of the basic game. This is the game of choice on the World Poker Tour and in the World Series of Poker, and the game that first gave the everyman the idea that they could play cards on the Internet and become a millionaire. The appeal of the game is easy to see: No Limit Texas Hold ’em lends itself to huge pots and big paydays, putting the glimmer of fame and fortune in the eyes of every onlooker. The newly released Stacked with Daniel Negreanu brings Texas Hold ’em to the PC, Xbox, and PS2 and includes instructional videos as well as online play, but comes up short stacked against what may be insurmountable competition.

So is it easy to become a great Texas Hold ’em player? Anyone can do it, according to pro player Daniel Negreanu, who has lent his expertise to Stacked. His strategies and tutelage are featured strongly throughout, and he serves as your poker instructor and mentor. Your best bet is to watch his multi-chapter instructional video before playing, as even poker professionals may pick up a thing or two from his course. It’s divided up into a series of chapters, so you can skip over the basics and head straight for the betting strategies and his rules for what makes up a playable hand. It’s all good stuff, and I found myself particularly interested in his rules for bluffing and why position is so important at a table. There’s no substitute for experience, though, and you’ll find that the best way to become a better poker player is to play poker, and you can do lots of that here, either in the offline career mode or online against other Stacked players.

Starting up a career is simple enough. You’ll pick a name, then an avatar. The avatars look decent, albeit without an incredible amount of detail, but more attractive than what you’ve seen in other poker games. Disappointingly, you’re not so much able to create a new character as you are instead able to tweak pre-made avatars. Your portly bald character wearing the socks and sandals can have a blue shirt instead of a green one, for instance. You can choose from a variety of sunglasses and hats, but most characters end up looking pretty much the same. I was at quite a few online tables where there were mirror image characters facing each other, and it’s a shame that the avatar customization options aren’t more robust, particularly in a game that encourages online play.

The character dialogue can wear thin very quickly as well. There are only so many times you’ll want to hear the same deadpan delivery, over-done stereotypical quips, and trash talk. There’s just not enough variety to the dialogue to keep things fresh. The Ali G wannabe avatar’s “Check, check it!” will make anyone grimace if the oversized necklace didn’t already turn you off. After one particular opponent folds ten hands in a row, hearing them say “I’ll stay in. This is fun,” may just make you wonder how much fun they’re really having.

If you can ignore the smack talk, then you may have fun playing in cash games, as well as single and multi-table tournaments. The interface is clean and simple to use, with a single touch of the button allowing you to look at your hole cards. You can also choose to display a touch of emotion by either smiling or frowning, but from what I’ve seen, this has no effect on gameplay, and can’t even be seen on your avatar during online play. You can always ask Negreanu for advice, but occasionally he’ll throw you off, telling you to go all in on questionable hands, or folding playable opening hands.


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